Coping with uncertainty

superstitious strategies and secondary control

Trevor I. Case*, Julie Fitness, David R. Cairns, Richard J. Stevenson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

47 Citations (Scopus)


The aim of the present studies was to investigate the relationship between primary and secondary control and the use of superstitious strategies under conditions of uncertainty and stress. In the first study, 78 participants completed a chance-determined card-guessing task in which they were permitted to use a psychic's card selections instead of making their own card selections. Participants' use of a superstitious strategy (a psychic's selections) increased significantly with the perceived likelihood of failure, regardless of belief in psychic ability. A second study (N = 102) replicated these findings using a skill task. Overall, these data suggest that as the need to control outcomes becomes increasingly salient, the use of superstitious strategies may represent attempts at secondary control.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)848-871
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Applied Social Psychology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2004

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